Build your army of B2B brand advocates from within
Unleash the power of employee brand advocates
With tight marketing budgets that are barely covering plans to engage your external audiences during a tough year, it’s easy to overlook one of your most powerful brand advocacy assets – your staff – when it comes to brand promotion.
Value propositions have become much more customer-centric in the last few years, with companies promising to work together to deliver ‘tailored’, ‘customised’, ‘collaborative’ solutions – you get the gist.
However, whilst this may be at the core of an external marketing message, this can quickly become a hollow promise if those values, attitudes and behaviours don’t live inside the minds of the people within a company who actually have to deliver this brand ‘promise’. More so, if you don’t have employee ‘buy-in’ or understanding for how you are building the company brand.
By turning attention first inwards, and defining a clear communications strategy to engage those who represent your business, there are significant benefits to be had. Imagine a united team, driven by the same values, using the same brand language, motivated by the same ambitions as each other, all singing in harmony from the same hymn sheet. Pushing your company forwards and delivering that same message at every interaction with your customers.
Yes, watch out for those unicorns, we live in the real world too – but a little focus and improvement can go a long way to driving a new cultural ‘brand energy’. We’ve seen the positive impact first hand on well executed brand strategy projects we’ve worked on which embraced employee input as a key part of the process.
Employees can bring your brand values to life in a way that other one or two dimensional forms simply can’t. Your people embody the authenticity at the heart of your business. So much so, that esteemed marketing veteran Professor Don Schultz believes:
“Internal marketing is more vital than external marketing.”
So, what’s the key to building internal brand advocates? Here are a few starters for ten to get you thinking what may work for your organisation.
THE WATERFALL EFFECT
Start by creating advocates in the senior management team, especially across multiple sites and locations. This way, they can drive the change in their own offices without disconnecting their region from the centre of the business. If your key movers and shakers aren’t well informed, or don’t feel part of the bigger picture, it’s highly likely that this will influence those they manage. So choose your core ‘disciples’ strategically and involve them from the outset in your brand planning and thinking whenever it’s possible to do so.
HAND OVER THE REINS
The leadership and ownership of any internal advocacy building projects don’t and shouldn’t just come from senior management. Creating advocates for specific values or elements of any internal project can really help to embed the message at all levels and give a sense of shared responsibility. Internal advocacy programmes shouldn’t be seen to be ‘owned’ by HR, or Marketing either. Find those people in your business who have a strong or vocal opinion, and get them onboard first. If nothing else you’ll gain some genuine insight into negative issues that need to be addressed early on.
DON’T JUST DEFINE, DO
It’s easy to create brand propositions and sets of brand values written on pieces of paper or in PowerPoint decks. At every opportunity, employees need to feel like those are all being brought to life in tangible ways they can engage with. Actions really do speak louder than words. Plus don’t wait until you have a neatly drafted plan – employee advocacy building needs to be a fluid process as you respond to feedback and valuable criticism. All successful employee advocacy programmes are built on 360 degree continuous feedback loops, with open communication and input supported at every level.
LET ME IN
Don’t make it feel like you’re imposing the law of the land on your company employees – they need to feel like they are truly contributing to the business or the branding process from its very core. From the beginning, your team should feel like they have had an input so they will ultimately feel like part of those values, ambitions and messaging lives inside them. They need to understand ‘what’s in it for me’ as well as ‘what’s in it for us’ as a business.
CARE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
You already have plenty of space to communicate with your staff to create real engagement: your offices. From office walls and central shared spaces, to screensavers, SharePoint and other systems, branded goods and online information portals, all of these help to reinforce and unite the message internally. Move away from clinical and uninspiring spaces and bring your workspace to life with personality and relevancy that reflects the real ‘heart’ of the business. Your aim is to get your communications noticed so be bold in the way you choose to communicate your brand, or risk losing your messaging in the general business noise.
PLATFORMS NOT PLATITUDES
Whether it’s newsletters, intranets, online hubs, tools like Slack or Teams, or monthly get-togethers and Town Halls, having the right platforms in place for staff to share and contribute is crucial to your success. Contribution points need to be easily accessible and comments need to be responded to quickly, or people will simple lose interest. Social media channels are great for customers, but do you really want your employees sharing their grievances in the public arena because they have nowhere else to direct these? Make your communication share points and processes clear and stay up-to-date and in-tune with key discussions – both positive and negative. Encouraging regular feedback is also a great way to feel ‘the pulse’ of the business to adjust your messaging as needed to address any concerns or to build on anything which people are getting behind.
IN TO OUT
One of the strengths of a strong internal brand is that it gives you real credibility to support your external marketing messaging. Your proposition can be given real meaning and in fact, can itself be shaped and guided by the way the brand starts to take on a life of its own internally. Just be careful that your internal brand is constantly and consistently aligned with your external brand and doesn’t take on a path of its own which we have seen happen as people get so engaged that they want to add their own stamp!
Like anything, frequency is key to making real and lasting change. Without a plan for the short and longer-term you won’t get very far and enthusiasm can quickly dwindle as momentum struggles to get a foothold in the beginning. Internal advocate engagement is a project that never ends, and it constantly needs feeding with fresh ideas. Drive forwards and constantly look for new perspectives across the business, as well as making sure you ‘immerse’ new people as they join the business.
Business is business, but remember that whilst we all want to take our work seriously, the more it seems like fun and less like a chore, the more likely it is to succeed. Understanding personal value as much as business value can work to better ingrain the culture you want, so put this at the heart of your employee engagement planning.
Read more about how to build Customer Advocacy in our latest publication – The Little Book of B2B Brand 2023 which you can download by clicking on the image link below.